Bears claw back from bad start, advance
A successful string of steals early, coupled with a sweet run during the home stretch, kept the Sevier County Smoky Bears season alive Satuday night, with a 67-61 win over Sullivan South in the first round of the Region 1-AAA tournament.
The Rebels (14-17 overall) looked like a team on a mission early, as they forced Sevier County (27-4) mistakes and bombed away from the 3-point line to go up 14-6 halfway through the contest’s opening quarter.
Then the turnovers started.
Capitalizing on four-straight steals and layups — created by their 1-3-1 zone press — the Bears clawed their way back into the game, and shifted the momentum firmly their way.
“We’re up 14-6, and the turnovers there are the difference in the game, bottom-line,” South coach Mark Pendleton said. “It let them back in it.”
Sevier County star forward Devin Schmidt — who led the Bears with 30 points in the game — converted all four of the steals into fast-break buckets, igniting the Sevier County crowd and injecting emotion into his own squad, which had started the game with a thud.
“I think our first eight or nine possessions we got two shots,” SCHS head coach Ken Wright said. “You’re not going to win tournament games doing that. (And) defensively, that just wasn’t a very good effort to start the game with. Tournament time you better come ready to play, and we didn’t.”
But the switch in pressing styles helped swing momentum, which the Bears rode to victory.
“We started out in a matchup press into a switching man-to-man and were just horrendous,” Sevier County coach Ken Wright said. “So then we went to our 1-3-1 press and Devin just got his hands on the ball. We surprised them a little bit, we got in the passing lanes a little bit, and the boys just got a great run there of steals that we turned into baskets.
“And when you’re having a bad start shooting, you need to get some points from your defense, and our defense got us points, and that’s what got us back in the game.”
Just seconds later, Sevier County senior Logan McCarter followed a teammate’s fast-break miss with a offensive rebound outback, and the Bears had their first lead at 16-15.
The game remained close through the next two quarters, as Schmidt and South’s Michael Harr — who also netted 30 points, including five 3-pointers — matched each other nearly shot-for-shot.
The Bears broke through during a stretch from late in the third quarter to midway through the fourth, as they outscored the Rebels 19-8 to hold a 59-48 advantage inside three minutes to play.
“Basketball is a game of runs, like I’ve said a thousand times, and we had a good run there,” Wright said. “We were able to get them out of their zone and I felt like once we could get them out of their zone we could really free Devin for some baskets at the rim.”
The Bears also got some scoring off the bench during the stretch from junior guard Trent Pope.
“Trent Pope came off the bench and gave us a couple of big threes … and he’s been doing that in practice,” Wright said. “I said, ‘Trent, you’re a catch-and-shoot player, buddy, just look for your shot.’ And he did, and he knocked down a a couple of big threes.”
But South’s Harr and teammate Mitchell Crowe weren’t going out without a fight. The pair combined for four 3-pointers over the next two minutes, to slice the Sevier County lead back to size.
Harr drew a foul on the final bomb of the Rebels’ run and converted the four-point play to bring his team within four, 65-61, with :38 left on the game clock.
That’s as close as it would get, however, as Sevier County made a pair of late free throws and kept the Rebels in check the rest of the way for the 67-61 win.
Sevier County had three players in double-figures. After Schmidt’s 30, junior teammates Jacob Whaley and Cody Underwood each had 10 points. Trent Pope added eight, while Logan McCarter (four), Austin Pope (three) and Weston Underwood (two) also scored for SCHS.
“Devin scored 30,” Wright said. “But he wasn’t having a great shooting night. He was having to just work for everything.”
It was the senior’s third-straight game with 30 points or more — every game this postseason.
Beyond Harr’s 30-point outing for South, Crowe finished with 14 points for the Rebels, while teammate Evan Headrick scored eight.
The Bears will move on to face District 1-AAA runner-up Dobyns-Bennett (21-8 overall) in round two of the Region 1-AAA tournament. The Indians downed 2-AAA third-seed Cocke County by a 70-31 margin Saturday night.
“They just beat our third seed by 39 points, so we better be ready to play come Tuesday night,” Wright said. “Dobyns-Bennett’s got a couple of good-sized kids inside that played for them last year, they’re real quick at the guard spot. They’ve just got a good basketball team, they’ve played some tough competition, and they’ve been through the wars.
“Obviously they’re hungry,” he continued. “We’re going to have to go up there and play a little bit better than we did tonight.”
D-B ended the Bears’ season last year in the first round of the region with a 42-40 victory at SCHS.
Tuesday’s game will be played at Daniel Boone High School and will tip off at 6 p.m.